The Woest Way [WOEST]

Melissa Notteboom (42) and Jelle Van Coillie put their heart and soul into their restaurant Woest. By serving their dishes on a bed of sustainable stories, they want to be more than just a place to eat. A conversation about investing in people, happy plants and love as the secret ingredient.

A frisbee. That’s what brought the couple of entrepreneurs together. “Jelle is friend of my husband’s. They were in the scouts (youth organisation) together and played in the same frisbee club in Bruges. When they went to university in Ghent, they founded the club Gentle Ultimate. The frisbee is the cradle of so much fun. Our children are also members, as are half of our staff. (Laughs) You see, Jelle and I have always dreamt of owning a restaurant, even though neither of us had a background in the catering industry. When we started talking about it, it turned out that our visions were very similar. So, together we created Woest.

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Since 2017, a Woest enriches the area of the Brugse Poort. Melissa is the chef and deals with the concept. Jelle runs the bar and is in charge of the administrative and financial side of the business. "In our concept, we think it's important to think consciously about our choices and how we make them. We think carefully about each product. We want to be proud of our menu, so we like to emphasize sustainability. For example, we are very proud of our meat from the organic butcher or our fair trade coffee from Oxfam. You’re not only presenting the customer with a dish, but you’re also giving them the accompanying story. When people say they like the way the dish looks, I tell them that we made it with love. That’s our secret ingredient. (smiles)

Last week I prepared a dish with pasta from Pastati. The driving force behind Pastati is Kristl, a lovely lady. She makes fresh pasta and has it done by a custom company. As a cook, I get so much pleasure from thinking up a dish while at the same time supporting an amazing project. In an ideal world, all of our ingredients would be biologically sourced, or everything would come from the local farmer. However, that’s financially not feasible yet, so we have to consider the pros and cons every day. Every step, however small, is one in the right direction.

As of January 1, 2021, it’s mandatory for the catering industry to separate leftovers and kitchen waste. “That measure has apparently been held up by Horeca Flanders for four years. I was gobsmacked when I read that. We are doing everything we can to avoid wasting food. If customers don’t finish their plates, they can take it home as a “a little leftover from the restaurant”. We’re also big fans of game changers like the people behind the Too Good To Go app. For us, that’s a win-win situation; you don’t have to throw anything away and new audiences find their way to us.

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Even the idea of a weekend brunch grew out of the desire of not wasting food. It’s great for the customers and it gives us room for creative freedom as well. There’s nothing more fun than coming up with dishes from whatever is left in the fridge.

From the beginning, Woest has worked closely together with the organic bakery Compaan. You can get unlimited bread with your soup or dish, and the restaurant also offers social employment. “Compaan helps people who struggle mentally or physically. And so they look for a safe environment for them to gain experience. That way, they can enter the job market with a nice recommendation in their pocket.

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During those weeks or months you can see people grow. Recently, we had a guy who started out doing dishes, who went on to cut the greens and assisted with making the soup and finally during COVID, he served food at the buffet. This allowed him to refine his customer skills a bit and master a smooth feel.”

“We want to invest in people,” Melissa explains. “Having no experience is definitely not a no-go. If there’s a good vibe, the rest will work out as well. We also like to search for new employees through IBO (individual professional training). That’s a fantastic system for giving people opportunities. Anyone who is interested in what happens in the kitchen can learn it with us. All the time, energy and love we put in our staff, we always get in return. Slowly but surely, we increase the expectations and we offer some people a permanent contract after six months.

We choose people we feel comfortable with. Jelle’s selection criterion is: ‘Would I want to go on a weekend trip with them?’ (laughs) Our team is very close. We do a lot of activities and team building games together. And I am always curious to hear about their ideas and suggestions. We are a family and we are there for each other. That's exactly why we can provide that safety net together.”


Woest is also a part of the network of Enchanté, through which clients can offer a pending coffee or meal to those in need. “Such an amazing initiative, we had to accept right away. Each pending meal or coffee sparks a conversation. For some people, it is difficult to accept something for free. We have a lady come by regularly, who kept offering to pay for her coffee herself. I told her that my plants tend to die and I asked her if she could take care of them. Now she is responsible for all of our plants at Woest and she waters them every week. (smiles) As a way of thanking her, she receives a free coffee or slice of cake. That makes her feel better than just getting a free coffee.”

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The system with pending meals runs smoothly, although it remains difficult for some people to join in. “Every receipt that is used is a win. It is for social contact alone that Enchanté exists. Those who need it are always welcome at our place to warm up and have something to eat or drink. On Christmas, we also have a social Christmas Eve, where we offer a festive dinner made from donations of our sponsors. Everyone is invited.”

“Jelle and I want to be able to look back at Woest with pride”, Melissa concludes. “We want to be more than just a restaurant. We also organize a lot of events: from cycling events to the Woeste Wijven Club. Local artists can also exhibit their art in our restaurant and we give beginning artists an audience during our Wednesday salon and terrace sessions. By thinking closely and consciously we try to get the most out of it. And we’re definitely not talking about numbers.”

An honest meal that’s also delicious from Woest (Drongensesteenweg 41, Gent), is one of our heartfelt recommendations for the end of the year.


Melissa Janssens

Melissa is a freelance journalist and likes writing about psychology, relationships and sustainability. She loves bouquets from local flower farmers, finding beautiful second-hand clothes in fair fashion shops and living more sustainably across the board.

Foto's door Sarah Van Looy

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